I purchased four mated queens in August with the intention of splitting some of my older colonies to create four new colonies. The requeening didn’t work out so well, but eventually I think (I hope) I got one colony started up well from a split and another one requeened. The other two mated queens were killed outright and another replacement queen I picked up a week later isn’t dead, but it’s barely laid an egg and it’s currently living in a nuc box — and it looks like this:It doesn’t look good. Her wings are cracked too.
First of all, that’s what I call a stubby queen. A well-mated queen that’s laying well usually has a long even abdomen like this queen:
Superficially the difference may not look like much, but there’s a big difference. The second I saw the marked queen I knew she wasn’t laying, only because I’ve seen non-laying queens before. They look short and fat and not much larger than regular worker bees. They’re easy to miss because size-wise, they blend in well with other bees. They are not good layers, if they lay at all. Maybe they don’t have the reach to properly lay an egg at the very centre and bottom of the cells. What’s strange is that this queen didn’t look stubby when I installed her. It’s possible she never got into a laying rhythm and now she’s shut down for the year because it’s cold. Maybe she’ll do fine in the spring. I don’t know.
But I do know she’s living in a nuc box where she probably hasn’t laid much of anything at least for a month because other than one or two larvae that are probably drones, there’s no brood on any of the frames and not many bees in what’s left of the cluster either. I may add a frame or two of bees from one of my overflowing hives so they don’t freeze to death going into winter. Then I’ll do what I can to keep her alive in a nuc. But none of this bodes well.
I’m also now concerned about the other two surviving mated queens I bought. Are they even alive? Did they shut down early too? Are they going to give out on me over the winter? I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to dig into those hives and find out, just when I thought all my major messing around with the bees was done for the year.
April 2019 Postscript #1: I normally order mated queens from the Newfoundland Bee Company (they get sent in the mail), but these queens were ordered from another breeder on the island who, at least at the time, was concentrating on breeding bees with Russian genes because they’re supposed to be more winter-hardy (good for NL winters) and Varroa-resistant (if Varroa mites ever make it onto the island, which seems inevitable considering the popular appeal of beekeeping on the island these days). That’s all good. But I learned the hard way that Russian queens aren’t easy to introduce to a colony that has predominantly Italian genes. Here’s a quote from A Comparison of Russian and Italian Honey Bees (PDF) published by North Carolina State University:
“Requeening Italian hives with Russian queens can be difficult, and many beekeepers lose their newly introduced Russian queens. Russian queens have a different ‘odor’ than Italians, and parent colonies must become acclimated to this odor before they will accept the newcomers.”
In other words, the standard requeening method of installing the mated queen in a cage with a candy plug that allows the queen to be released within two or three days probably won’t work. It didn’t work at all for me. Most of the queens were killed by the bees in the new colony. The Russian queen needs to be kept in the cage inside the new hive for at least a full week before she’s released (the article goes into more detail). I’ll probably order mated queens from the Newfoundland Bee Company for now on just to be safe and make my life easier because even though I’ve had an occasional dud queen from them (which happens with everyone and which they replaced for free), they’ve got so much genetic diversity in their bees that introducing mated queens is less likely to be a problem.
Postscript #2: That being said, I’ve had incredible success in established colonies with Russian-like queens I got from G & M. In fact, I’d say some of the queens lay so rapidly that it’s difficult to stay ahead of them and give them enough room so the colonies don’t swarm. They’re not bad queens at all. They’re just different.